John Yau reviews Michael Mazur: Stoneham Zoo (1976-1979) recently on view at Ryan Lee Gallery, New York.
Yau writes that "the relationship between figuration and abstraction seem as much the subject of the paintings as the primates they depict living (if you can call it that) in squalid conditions. Although Mazur has been characterized as a narrative realist interested in 'social documentation,' it seems to me that this early interest in the porous border between abstraction and figuration never ceased to be of interest to him. Third, the interplay between subject matter and paint is what makes these social and narrative views both bearable and discomfiting… This is what Mazur does so well in these paintings – he gets a tight dance going between paint and subject matter. Back in the last century, at a high school dance, supposedly you could not hold your partner so close that a book, a rather thick one, couldn’t fit between you, or so the cliché goes. In Mazur’s best paintings, you can’t wedge anything between paint and subject matter. It is the paint that makes the subjects work, not the other way around."